Fear still pervades in Mozambique’s Palma community

The town of Palma in northern Mozambique was the scene of a horrific attack by Islamist militants a year ago, which left dozens of people dead, forced thousands to flee their homes and put a massive nearby gas project on hold.

Fear still pervades Palma.

Before the well co-ordinated assault began, the coastal town was packed and bustling – full of those who had come to find work in the area’s burgeoning gas industry.

It was also full of thousands of people who had fled violence in other areas of Cabo Delgado, the mainly Muslim province where an Islamist insurgency began in 2017.

The militants are known locally as al-Shabab. They have no link to the Somali group of that name, but have since pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group.

Today, French energy giant, Total’s multi-billion dollar gas project, remains closed.

Some of those who had begun to return home were too afraid to talk to the BBC over the phone, even though the militants have been expelled.

Antònio, one of the contractors who had gone to the town to work in the gas industry, was not hopeful about the future.

Despite the deployment of regional troops to fight al-Shabab, the victims say they can’t see themselves returning since they remain traumatised by the events that, four days into the siege began on March 24, saw the militants break through the gate of their work compound where they and other contractors – some from Zimbabwe and South Africa – were hiding in pre-fabricated buildings.

This sentiment sums up the difficult nature of tackling militants who are able to melt into the local community and countryside.The terror waged in Palma did put pressure on Mozambique to accept foreign assistance. Last July, about 2,000 troops from Rwanda and 1,000 soldiers from various southern African countries arrived in Cabo Delgado.

Over several weeks, they rooted out al-Shabab fighters from many of their strongholds. But that had just meant the jihadists have moved to the thick jungles and neighbouring regions, from where they staged smaller hit-and-run attacks. -BBC

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